Los Lobos was formed in 1974 by David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez and Cesar Rosas. “We all came from the same high school. We were friends before we were ever a band. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been around as long as we have,” says Louie Perez. Originally, the foursome from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles started out as a rock and roll band but soon chose a more traditional Mexican acoustic style. “The four of us used to hang out--we had a lot of time on our hands when we weren’t rehearsing or gigging at weddings or whatnot,” explains Perez. “During the day we’d get together with a couple of acoustic guitars and we’d sit in the backyard and learn these old Mexican songs from our parents’ records which we called the soundtrack of the Barrio.” It wasn’t long before those backyard sessions turned into a quest for a broader knowledge of different types of Latino music. “We decided that it would be something challenging to get really involved in the non-commercial music from the different areas of Mexico and from other countries in the Caribbean and South America, too,” adds Perez.
For years the quartet played wedding gigs as well as other traditional Mexican gatherings around East Los Angeles’ Chicano community. It wasn't until 1978 that Los Lobos landed its first steady professional gig--playing at a Mexican restaurant. “We were just trying to survive,” says Perez, “taking any job we could get. We were playing only acoustic guitars at first until David got an accordion from a friend who had been stationed in Germany. He brought it over to the restaurant and we learned a few more Tex-Mex tunes in that style. Then we got more involved in trying to get a truer sound, so we brought out a small drum kit. Then Conrad brought in a small bass amp and his electric bass. We began to electrify so that we could be closer to the actual Tex-Mex kind of sound. But when we began doing so, we realized how close that was to the rock and roll format and songs. We brought our bigger amps and we started playing real loud. Soon after that, we got fired.”
From this experience, however, Los Lobos learned an invaluable lesson. As they began to mix it up with acoustic and electric instruments while playing traditional Mexican music as well as rock and roll, Los Lobos had begun to bring all their musical loves into their own unique style. By adopting music from Tex-Mex, country, folk, R & B, blues as well as the traditional Mexican songs from their roots, Los Lobos developed one of the most distinct and original sounds to come about in the last 25 years. As Louie Perez explains, “We didn’t so much want to recycle the music we’d grown up with as much as find the common links between it and all other styles and sounds that were all around us. It became a mission, almost a crusade . . . bringing music together to bring people together.” Around this time in the late seventies, Los Lobos released an EP of traditional Mexican music under the title, Los Lobos Del Este Los Angeles.
With all this experience in different musical genres, they soon started to write their own songs. David Hidalgo, who handles most of the lead vocals teamed up with Perez to pen the majority of Los Lobos' original songs, with Cesar Rosas providing vocals and songwriting on the rest. About this time, the L.A. music scene really began exploding with a new generation of bands like the Blasters and X . The common ground with a lot of these bands, however, was a mutual respect for the roots of rock and roll and creating new hybrids from the early years of rock. It wasn’t long before Los Lobos recognized that their music had a place. Los Lobos started playing gigs on the Hollywood circuit gaining the respect from fellow bands. They hung out with the Blasters and soon were invited to play with them at clubs such as the Whiskey in Hollywood. Among those impressed with Los Lobos was Blasters' saxophone player, Steve Berlin. Berlin became close with Los Lobos and after some jam sessions with the band, was made an honorary Chicano and added to the band’s line-up.
During this time, Los Lobos were signed to Slash Records. With a small budget and a little time between gigs, Los Lobos recorded ... and a Time to Dance in 1983. The EP’s seven songs were an eclectic mix of roots rock and roll and Mexican Nortena music which showcased the impressive stylistic versatility that Los Lobos had crafted. The EP became a favorite of the critics and the song Anselma won a Grammy Award for Best Mexican/American Performance.
The time after the EP was spent touring for Los Lobos. As Steve Berlin explains, “We spent a year doing heavy road work, which the band hadn’t really done before. So we got a little attention, and when it came time to do an LP, we had a lot more time and money, and the band had really coalesced into a more distinctive vision.” How Will the Wolf Survive?, released in 1984, was a result of that musical vision. The tight-knit arrangements, varying instrumentation, and emotional directness mark the band’s increasing musical touch as they range over all the musical genres they had played over the years.
The follow up to this album was By the Light of the Moon, which had an even wider range of influences. With One Time, One Night the band showed its country flavor while Is This All There Is? showed their jazz and blues side. Remaining true, however, was the songwriting talents of the band. Los Lobos wrote of the torments of the barrio while still providing the foot stomping rhythms that had made their live shows so enjoyable.
In 1987, the band made a big contribution to the soundtrack of La Bamba and with it came their first number one hit song by the same title. The movie was about the life and times of Ritchie Valens, one of the few Mexican-Americans to reach the rock and roll charts before Los Lobos.
While enjoying the recognition of having a hit record, Los Lobos might have felt a need to show its fans their roots with the release of La Pistola Y El Corazon in 1988. This album which earned the band its second Grammy Award consisted of Mexican traditional songs as well as some original compositions along the same style. They followed this release with a tour showcasing their talents on the traditional acoustic instruments playing songs from the album as well as other timeless classics from their Mexican roots.
With The Neighborhood in 1990, the band broke new ground with a mix of different styles that still showed off their songwriting talents. In 1992, with the release of Kiko, Los Lobos proved once again that they can continue to be innovative. While each song might have a different flavor, it doesn’t seem like a blend of different genres, but rather the product of different imaginations coming together. This critically acclaimed album was voted Album of the Year by such publications as The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times.
In celebration of their twenty years together, Los Lobos released a double CD compilation, Just Another Band from East L.A.... A Collection. Material from this compilation includes live performances, rare tracks from their first independent release, out-takes from recording sessions and favorite cuts from their last six albums.
In 1995, Los Lobos recorded a children’s record, Papa's Dream with Lalo Guerrero and provided the score for Desperado, the sequel to the film El Mariachi. They also have contributed to other soundtracks for such films as Mi Vida Loca, Mi Familia and recorded tracks for tribute albums to Doc Pomus and Buddy Holly.
Their last release for Warner Bros. came in the form of 1996’s Colossal Head, another critically acclaimed album that still failed to excite the label enough to keep them on the roster. Feeling dejected, they left one another to concentrate on side projects, like Soul Disguise, Houndog, and the Latin Playboys. The latter was the most dedicated project of the bunch, eventually becoming another regular group for David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, on top of their duties for Los Lobos, after previously releasing an album in the early 90s.
Los Lobos came back together in 1999, when they recorded and released their first record for Hollywood Records, This Time. Another Los Angeles-themed gem from the group, it didn’t perform up to the label’s liking and they only managed to deliver one more record for the company, the re-release of 1977’s Del Este de Los Angeles. Rhino/Warner Archives released the Cancionero: Mas y Mas boxed set the following year, but despite the career retrospective, they were still together and came back on Mammoth Records for the Good Morning Aztlan release in 2002. Two years later, artists such as Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, and Mavis Staples joined Los Lobos for The Ride. In 2004, as the band celebrated thirty years in the music business, they recorded a pair of sold-out shows in San Francisco, which became the basis for a live album and DVD, Live at the Filmore, remarkably the veteran group's first “live” set.
The Grammy-winning East L.A. band Los Lobos released Tin Can Trust (2010), their first collection of new original material in four years. Featuring powerful rock ‘n’ roll, blistering blues, two Spanish-language tracks, and even a Grateful Dead cover, the album is classic Lobos, through and through.